Some African regulators need to ‘step up’ with regard to dealing with unlicensed operators and enforcing safer gambling, in the opinion of Olabimpe Akingba, Executive Secretary of the Association of Nigerian Bookmakers (ANB).
Sharing her views on the ‘Accessing Africa’ panel at the SBC Summit Barcelona, Akingba was joined by four other stakeholders in the African market – three operators and one regulator – and made her views on regulatory action in her home country very clear.
“From my observation, Nigeria and other African countries definitely focus more on revenue generation than responsible gaming,” she said. “At the moment regulators are not doing much on that part.
“If I speak for Nigeria, it is really low, beyond what is written in the books enforcement and what is in law are at the barest minimum. We have seen addiction, there is nothing in place for treatment and I know that the regulators are not that focused at the moment and it is important for them to look at it.”
In Nigeria, licensed operators have been setting their own standards with regard to advertising, for example, Akingba explained. An issue is that regulators are not taking enough action to address the unlicensed, creating an unfair condition for companies that are acting more responsibly.
“I am of the opinion that the regulators need to step up and can’t leave it to the operators,” she asserted.
Despite this challenge, Nigeria remains an attractive market for investment and is one of the burgeoning gaming sectors – as well as economies in general – on the continent.
With regards to licensing, operators have admitted some challenges, however. Tyronne Dobbin, Tyrone Dobbin, Co-Founder: Sportingbet South Africa, detailed different experiences between the South African and Nigerian markets.
“Something that is really significant between the territories is that South Africa has a very consistent framework of law,” he said.
“It doesn’t change, it’s easy for an operator to understand. In some other countries, when we entered the Nigerian market, we took on Oyo state licence where it was promised to us that it would be available and we could conduct business with that licence.
“But when we tried to advertise on Facebook or Google or even on the local TV channels, they didn’t accept that licence.”
Offering some advice on this, Akingba explained that states in Nigeria ‘do not have the power to regulate’ the gambling space, so if operators are given promises from a state regulator, these assurances should be taken with a grain of salt.
Other markets addressed by Dobbin were Ghana and Kenya – both consistently ranked as some of the more prominent African sectors, but Sportingbet South Africa’s Co-Founder remarked that regulations in these nations are often fast-changing.
In contrast, as mentioned above, Dobbin noted South Africa as a consistent regulatory environment. To provide added context on this market, the panel hosted Caroline Kongwa, Chief Strategic Adviser at the country’s National Gambling Board (NGB).
Kongwa detailed: “In the terms of the constitution, we have to cooperate and work together to regulate the industry. This is quite a unique model that is not common in other jurisdictions. We have a very stable, established industry at this point in time with 47bn rand.
“In terms of barriers to entry, it is our opinion that we do not have regulatory challenges, that is our opinion, as the industry is well established and people are able to enter. However, in terms of an operator trying to get into the space, the challenge is the holistic nature of the industry.”
Kenya has been highlighted as a potentially difficult market by some, largely due to regulations shifting on an almost yearly basis. One operator that has firmly established itself in this market, however, is kwiff.
Charles Lee, CEO of the UK-founded firm, provided some insights into how the company built up its platform and product in Kenya, which began with the opening of an office in Nairobi and the development of a local team.
“In terms of staying in front of those issues that can cause problems, I think it’s about recruiting the right people. That is a hard, hard thing to do, be it from London or from Malta or from wherever you are.
“It’s also understanding the players and looking at the data that they’re showing you from playing with your apps, in terms of the betting data. In order to get them to play with the apps, you’ve probably got to buy some data for them as well and have a really low latency app that they can use.”
Following this, kwiff’s focus has been on localising the products, ensuring deposits and offering different payment methods from in Europe.
There is no guarantee of success, Lee reflected, but operators interested in building up an African presence should make development to ‘give people the right product, the right content they want to bet on’, a priority.
So can such an approach be rolled out across Africa? Can a pan-African approach be successfully developed? Moderator Aideen Shortt, Founder and CEO of Lilywhite, pointed to 888 Holdings’ 888AFRICA as an example of a company trying this.
In Dobbin’s assessment, big-name international players will have a hard time adopting a cross-continental approach to Africa. The continent is highly diverse, he observed, with at least 54 countries, 56 when unrecognised states are included, and each with varying languages and cultures.
“There’s been so many examples of big, well-known brands trying it and not making it. There are two or three companies who have had this pan-African approach and have done really well actually, but for those two or three successes, there are 100 failures.”